I'm often asked what my favorite kitchen gadget or tool is. It's a tough question. In fact, choosing just one is almost impossible. But, as much as I love my heavy-duty mixer, food processor and new Vitamix blender, I'd have to say that my chef's knife is the most indispensable tool I own. I use it daily and would have a hard time cooking without it.
I remember purchasing my first chef's knife. I was apprehensive about its hefty price tag. But once I held the 9-inch, German-made, hand-forged knife in my hand and actually learned how to use it, I was sold. To me, it was worth its weight in gold.
A good knife, kept properly honed and sharpened, is a cook's greatest kitchen tool. The weight of the knife, along with a sharp blade, will make kitchen work seem effortless. Cooking is more enjoyable when you have the right tools for the job.
Some of you are thinking of purchasing cutlery, and here are the questions I have received.
How do you know what to look for when purchasing a good chef's knife? There is quite a gap in the price of knives. Hand-forged chef's knives produced in Germany have long been considered the best; they are carefully crafted and are works of art. The blade has been forged out of a single sheet of metal and ground so that it tapers smoothly from the spine of the knife to the cutting edge. A good chef's knife will have a full tang — that is, the blade will extend through the length of the handle.
The variance in price has to do with materials, design and the manufacturer's origin. German-made cutlery is usually more expensive than that produced in Asia.
When buying a good knife, consider the material used in the blade. High-carbon stainless steel is a good choice. The high percentage of carbon allows the blade to take and keep a keener edge. Stainless steel will keep it from rusting.
There are several good-looking knife sets in the stores, but which knives are actually needed in a normal kitchen?
You probably do not really need a large set of knives to do most kitchen tasks. I recommend that you purchase those that you are likely to use. The three knives I find most useful are the chef's knife, a good serrated knife for slicing and a paring knife. Those are the basics. Other knives may be added as the budget and needs arise.
I want to keep my knives sharp, but what is the difference between a steel and knife sharpener? Do they do the same thing?
A steel straightens out the edges of a knife. Edges become ragged or wavy during ordinary use, and running the knife against the steel will straighten those wayward edges. When sharpening a knife, the edge is shaped at the proper angle into a very keen one. Be aware that, over time, some electric sharpeners can do damage to your knives. I have used a small, nonelectric one for years and my knives stay sharp and show no damage.